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Numbers Xi: seeing Moses plain

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image of Vetus Testamentum

This essay presents an interpretation of Numbers xi that highlights its coherence and humor. Although source-critics see opposing views of Moses stitched together from separate sources by a later redactor—a bad Moses in the quail segment and a good Moses in the elders segment, this essay manifests the chapter's narrative integrity. A close literary analysis reveals an aesthetically-pleasing account, free of the disjunctions and non-sequiturs posited by other commentators; theme, puns, wordplay, and an ingenious man/quail metaphor unite all of the pericope's verses in a single favorable view of Moses. Far from revealing him as "snitch" and "informer," this holistic reading of the undivided text harmonizes with the rest of the Bible's consistent portrayal of Moses as the invariant champion of the Israelites, their never-failing mediator before God.


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